Cocoa May Help Memory Loss, Which Is Exciting News for Dark Chocolate Lovers

In a very Halloween-appropriate study, new research shows that a main ingredient found in candy bars might be good for your brain. Go ahead and enjoy your dark chocolate snacks even more, because cocoa may help memory loss. Pretty sweet, right?

Flavanol, found in cocoa, has been linked to increased brain function in mice, and it might be able to help with an aspect of memory loss associated with normal aging, a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience reveals. The study’s senior author Scott Small and his team wanted to see if these same brain function improvements would occur when humans changed their diet to include an increased amount of flavanol.

To test their hypothesis, Small and his team found 37 healthy volunteers, ages ranging from 50 to 69, to use as study subjects. The subjects were then randomized and told to follow either a high or low flavanol diet for three months. The high flavanol diet consisted of consuming 900 mg of the antioxidant a day, while those chosen for the low flavanol diet were told to only ingest 10 mg daily.

At the beginning and end of the study, the volunteers took memory function tests. Each subject underwent a brain scan to track changes in their dentate gyrus region, a part of the brain that is strongly associated with memory function. The volunteers also completed memory tests based on pattern and shape recognition skills. Small and his team found more high blood volume, which is linked to more activity, in the dentate gyrus region of the subjects who followed a high flavanol diet. The high flavanol subjects also performed better on their pattern tests. After the three month period, Small reported that volunteers who started the study with a typical 60-year-old memory were performing tests with the memory of a typical 30 or 40 year old.

But before you get too excited, I should probably mention that cocoa flavanols aren’t typically found in milk chocolate, as they are usually lost when cocoa is processed. And to get the correct amount of flavanols, you would have to eat around seven bars of dark chocolate a day. For the study, subjects used lab-created cocoa drinks to reach their goal intake of flavanol, which honestly, doesn't sound all that appetizing.

Researchers also believe that this test needs to be replicated on a larger scale with more extensive research before any hard conclusions can be reached. They would like to explore more aspects of flavanol’s effect on memory, such as how fast the changes take place and how long the changes last.

So while this study sadly doesn’t give us an excuse to eat excessive amounts of Kit Kat bars (not that I really need one), it does give us hope for the quality of our memories in the future. And isn't that reason enough to celebrate with candy?

Image: Giphy (2)